Reviewed by Kanavillil Rajagopalan, State University at Campinas
This is the fifth volume in the series ‘Introducing linguistics’. All of the contributing authors are from the Department of Linguistics at the University of Amsterdam. The book is ‘a revision and adaptation’ (1) of the 2002 edition, which itself incorporated parts of another work assembled by the same editors and was published in Dutch a decade earlier.
The book is presented by the editors as a broad survey of the discipline, intended for students. It is comprised of twenty chapters and covers a wide range of topics, grouped into six parts. Part 1, ‘Language and language faculty’, contains two chapters: ‘From language to linguistics’ and ‘The language user’. These chapters lay down practically the entire gamut of basic principles and guiding assumptions of contemporary linguistics.
An interesting feature of Parts 2, 3, and 4 is that they approach language from the outside in rather than following the customary route from the inside out. That is to say, the chapters do not first focus on the smallest units of language, namely speech sounds, and then go on to look at larger units, such as text and discourse. Instead, the progression of chapters moves in the opposite direction—from discourse toward sounds, through sentences and words.
Part 2, ‘Language and interaction’, contains two chapters, ‘Discourse’ and ‘Speech acts’, paving the way for Part 3. Part 3, ‘Sentences and their meaning’, contains five chapters, covering units such as constituents and simple and complex sentences. Narrowing the focus further, Part 4, ‘Words and their meaning’, consists of three chapters on topics including lexicon, word formation, and compounds and idioms. Part 5 deals with phonetics and phonology.
Part 6, ‘Languages and communities’, broadens the focus to look at culture and how it impacts language, especially language variation, language change, and bilingualism—this last one being a hot-button issue, particularly in the context of language policy and education in many countries of the world.
Overall, this book covers practically the entire spectrum of research areas within the discipline of linguistics. The chapters are clearly written for the uninitiated and, at the same time, the authors are keen to present state-of-the-art introductions to their respective areas of specialization. Each chapter is accompanied by a succinct summary, a self-test, along with assignments and suggestions for further reading. Key terms are presented in boldface.
In the book’s preface, the editors emphasize their educational aims and note the importance of comments they received about the earlier editions in making sure that this edition is user-friendly. This book has a joint list of bibliographical references, a separate list of the sources of illustrations, and an index of key proper nouns and topics.